Having lived my life in the cancer world for nearly ten years, I thought I might be able to say that there is very little that shocks me about the impact of this disease. After all, I see it up close and personal via the work I do myself, and the patients and organisations we work with via Your simPal. We hear the statistics, currently one in three are affected, rising quickly in the next few years to one in two. Yes that is half of us! Whilst doing a presentation recently I asked the people in the room to imagine that half of them had cancer, and they were truly shocked, looking at it in that way.
But this is not scare tactics, it’s fact. The good news is that many more of us are surviving, but as we are now only too well aware, the issues after cancer can be more challenging. I would like to talk about several instances that have happened to friends of mine since the start of 2017. These are social friends who have no association to my cancer work. A lovely couple who have given a lot to society, and were a fantastic support to me during my illness, have both been diagnosed with different cancers. They had just finished some plans for their retirement and had even bought a home in Florida to use with their grandchildren. Now both their lives are up in the air as they start dealing with the shock of diagnosis and immediate treatment.
But even more shocking for me, was a young friend of the family who was diagnosed at the age of 32 with testicular cancer in 2011. As expected he had his treatment and got into remission, which was great news. Since then they have been able to have two children and lead a normal young family life. Until recently, when he was struggling to walk properly, which began to get worse. On a clinical inspection it was found that his hips were damaged from the chemo he had received, and he would need them replacing at the age of thirty eight. Then again in another 10 years, can you imagine that? He is now no longer able to pick up his two young children, and life will never be ‘normal’ again. Absolutely tragic for such a young family!
This example helps to highlight the current problems with cancer treatment. Yes we can treat it, but very rarely without impact on healthy tissue. My other friends have also started their treatment and are totally clouded in doom. For them it feels that they have had the rug pulled from under them just when they were preparing to kick back and relax a little. The psychological issues are immense, as rapidly their confidence disappears, being swamped by doubt and fear.
Of course I am dealing with cancer every day, but I am seeing these issues so commonly in my social life too. When I add to this the ‘celebrity’ deaths which seem so regular now, it feels like cancer has become the ‘modern day plague.’ Obviously we are going as quickly as we can with research and pharmaceuticals, but my main concern is the support for people after their diagnosis. All of my friends are having the same issues, they have enough literature to sink a battle ship but just do not know what to do next. More worrying for me is that many have medical questions left unanswered from their hospital visits.
We know only too well the feeling of isolation that people experience when dealing with a cancer diagnosis yet we still seem unable to improve things for them. I do appreciate the financial restraints we have these days but we also have technology to help us which can certainly make us more efficient in many areas. Time is the one thing we need of other people, and it seems in very short supply at times. I have seen many improvements in my time as a patient, but if I look at the bigger picture, we have not even made a dent in the real work.
Cancer is not something that only affects older people, it goes right across all age groups leaving a different set of problems for each generation! We cannot continue to sit on our hands as the numbers rise. It seems that as a society we still think that cancer will stop us from playing our part in the workplace etc. More often than not it will be difficult to continue working at the pace and intensity we did before we got sick, but it doesn’t mean we are totally lost souls. There are more long term diseases impacting our lives and if we are not careful we will have a very divided society.
Many of us can play a valuable role but can no longer get through any recruitment process. I was older when it happened to me but I can’t imagine if I was so much younger searching for a job with years away from the work place due to my illness. We all need to feel part of society, and I really believe that this will improve many of the mental health conditions we find ourselves with today. My friends and I are all lucky as we have family support, it is what got me through. I can only just imagine the horrors of being on your own.
What do you feel can be done to improve the lives of people affected by cancer? As always, please feel free to share your views below.